Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill 2006 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

As a former solicitor for eight years, until the general election relieved me of my duties, I practised a large amount of conveyancing and I am glad to see the reforms that are being introduced in the Bill before the House. The legislation is a comprehensive reform of the land and conveyancing law with which solicitors and purchasers must deal when buying houses, mortgaging properties or conducting any transactions relating to land and property. I pay tribute to all the people who have been involved in this process. The theory is that enacting legislation is a matter for Members but in areas such as this, we are completely reliant on the experts. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Law Reform Commission, other interested bodies and Professor Wiley, about whom and from whom we learned so much, have played a huge part in this Bill.

The system of land law which has existed in this country since the foundation of the State has been in some ways an insult to the idea of a republic where we still have vestiges of the feudal system of tenure in the law of the land and where property, in some cases, can be held under a feudal system which really does not apply to a republic. I am glad to see that being repealed.

I would make one general criticism of the Bill but it should not be taken personally by anyone and should really be seen as constructive. Much of the Bill is very theoretical and I do not see the input of solicitors who deal with property law on a daily basis. A number of welcome measures have been introduced. I refer, in particular, to section 62 relating to seals on deeds. Although a minor one, it is an issue which has annoyed me. Section 62 states: "(1) Any rule of law which requires — (a) a seal for the valid execution of a deed by an individual, or (b) authority to deliver a deed to be given by deed, is abolished." I would go a lot further than the drafters of this legislation have gone and would ban the use of seals because the ordinary purchaser or mortgager does not have seals. The use of seals on any kind of deed is an anachronism. A section such as this in the Bill will not prevent the use of seals which will continue because solicitors and lawyers are generally loath to end traditional ways of their craft even where it is not necessary. This section permits the use of seals.

The Land Registry rules have a similar provision in them where the use of a seal is not required but we still see solicitors and, in some cases, the Land Registry insisting that seals are used on deeds. That is wrong because it is a complete anachronism dating from a time when the local lord or whoever conveyed his property and used his seal as a symbol of power and importance. That has no relevance to modern day life.

An important provision in this Bill which will have huge practical effect for many purchasers, people who own freehold land and people who live in housing estates that have been completed in the past few years is the issue of the enforceability of freehold covenants. That has long been an out of date provision of law where freehold covenants cannot be enforced in certain circumstances. This has caused problems because many of the drafters of conveyances of houses did not seem to be aware of it. In creating management companies in housing estates using freehold conveyances and imposing obligations and conditions on covenants, the issue of the subsequent enforceability of those covenants in regard to the second or subsequent purchasers of a property has never been addressed. I do not think it has been addressed by this Bill either because I do not believe it applies retrospectively in regard to housing estates which already have these covenants in them, although I can be corrected on that.

I can think of one particular estate in which my wife owned a house before we got married. The management company fees were simply not enforceable and the estate did not operate in a satisfactory manner because the local authority did not want to take over common areas. The first purchasers had covenants with the management company but these were not enforceable by subsequent purchasers of the properties who could get away scot free without paying their management fees. This is a welcome change but perhaps we will have to look at it on Committee Stage to see how enforceable it is and what this change means in respect of covenants already in deeds.

I am disappointed by the abolition of the rule of lost modern grant in section 32 and the requirement for a court order in respect of this. What this meant was that if an easement — for example, a right of way — had been in use for 20 years, a vendor of a property could certify that by signing the appropriate statutory declaration. Perhaps two or three owners of a property might swear an affidavit that such a right of way or whatever was in use for 20 years. That removed a lot of uncertainty from property transactions in which there might have been issues of right of way. This will have a negative effect in that we will have to wait for a court order to have such a right of way recognised. That will add costs, hassle and time and perhaps it should be looked at again. I know there are good reasons for it because an affidavit is open to abuse. However, swearing a false affidavit is a criminal offence and solicitors do not condone it.

In a way I am glad to see the fee tail and fee farm grant being abolished. The legal practice in which I worked drafted fee farm grants until relatively recently but that is not required now with the freehold covenants now being enforceable. That is an old system and it worked in some cases in some housing estates and industrial lands where leases many not have been appropriate or not allowed as in the case of houses. It is probably right to abolish the fee tail, although there are properties which are affected by it. A client of mine owned a property in fee tail female. That property can only pass down to female members of the family as things stands.

The issue of conveyancing costs is being addressed and this will help. However, when we move towards e-conveyancing, it will help even more. A major issue which is not addressed by the Bill, and probably should not be, is the higher charges in the Land Registry versus the lower charges in the Registry of Deeds. There is a reason for that in that the Land Registry is like an insurance policy and gives a State guarantee over the title to one's property. On the higher scale of Land Registry fees, it can cost €625 to register the ownership or transfer of a property plus €125 to register the mortgage deed whereas in the Registry of Deeds, one can register the deed for €44 and the mortgage deed for another €44. There is a reason for that in that the Land Registry does a different job from the Registry of Deeds but clients do not understand that. It is an issue which should be looked at possibly in the context of this Bill in an effort to bring down conveyancing fees and perhaps level the playing pitch.

That leads on to the other issue of compulsory registration of property. Some 85% of property is registered in the Land Registry. It is mainly rural as opposed to city property. I would like the system of compulsory registration broadened to other counties and to new housing estates. There are new housing estates in which houses are being sold where purchasers' solicitors are being provided with boxes of title deeds. There should be an obligation on builders' solicitors to register the property in the Land Registry as part of preparing booklets of title for purchasers. It is only fair to purchasers and it would mean more efficiency in the system and in solicitors' offices because they would not have to read through boxes of title deeds. In the case of apartments in Dublin, in particular, there are literally three boxes of title deeds and the solicitor must go through all of them if he or she is to comply with his or her obligations.

I am glad the issue of mortgage enforcement is dealt with in section 94. As it happens, I spent a lot of time during the general election campaign in and out of court in respect of a couple of clients who were in difficulty with their mortgages and on whom court orders were threatened. One certainly could not abandon someone who was going to lose his or her house or property just because there was a general election coming up. Section 94(3) codifies in law what actually happens in court where the judge or, in some cases, the county registrar uses his or her discretion. It states "where it appears to the court that the mortgagor is likely to be able within a reasonable period to pay any arrears, including interest, due under the mortgage or to remedy any other breach of obligation arising under it", the judge can adjourn the proceedings, can stay the enforcement of a court order by a bank or can postpone the bank taking possession. We need to look carefully at this issue of banks taking possession of properties. There is an increasing number of repossessions. I am particularly worried by the sub-prime market in which we see what I would call the sharks. I got a leaflet in my door today offering me a fantastic mortgage at a rate of 8%, which is significantly higher than normal.

In regard to banks taking possession of properties and the court's discretion to delay orders or adjourn proceedings, the court should be able to take into account the fact the borrower has been obligated to pay a super normal rate of interest. Such a provision would take some of the wind out of the sails of the sub-prime lenders, which tend to go to court quickly when borrowers miss a payment or two. Some of the more traditional banks take a more reasonable approach, as long as borrowers are honest and open with them. That is not happening in all cases, however. This is not just an issue of financial services regulation, it is a conveyancing issue too.

I would like to comment on the final section of the Bill, section 122, which contains an obscure provision. I am delighted that this section, which states "the power of the sheriff, or of other persons entitled to exercise the sheriff's powers, to seize a tenancy under a writ offieri facias or other process of execution is abolished” has been included in the legislation. This measure will mean that when purchasers are buying leasehold property, their solicitors will no longer be obliged to conduct searches in the sheriff’s office and the revenue sheriff’s office. Given that such searches currently add up to €200 to the cost of a leasehold property transaction, this proposal represents a positive step for purchasers.

While I like the Bill's co-ownership provisions, they could go a lot further. When practising solicitors deal with co-ownership, they often deal with the division of property after people have fallen out. This issue relates to the issue of civil unions as well. It is also a question of family law, although there are separate rules in relation to divorce and separation. The law is very vague on what should happen when unmarried parties, such as couples or brothers and sisters, decide to sell jointly owned properties. I am not sure that this legislation adds very much to the existing provisions in this area. As solicitors, we often sit in our offices going through electricity bills, gas bills and other utility bills, trying to work out who owns what. Perhaps it is something we should look at. These cases have been arising much more regularly in my practice and I am sure the same is the case in other practices.

I am glad that this new law has been introduced. The sooner it is enacted, the better. The next issue we will have to deal with is e-conveyancing. This Bill does not deal with the issue of solicitors' undertakings, which I raised on the Adjournment. More work has to be done on this matter, which is the subject of some public disquiet. Solicitors have to instil confidence in the public that they are doing a good job. I am reminded of the old adage that "most people think that most solicitors are crooks, but that their own solicitor is fantastic" because it applies in this instance and is what people generally think. It is important for the legal profession that legislators deal with the loss of confidence in solicitors. As I do not have any more to say on the issue, I will not use the rest of my time.

I welcome this Bill, which is a few decades late in a historic and practical sense. I accept the need to take legislative action to bring the ownership of land, and everything that pertains to it, up to date. I pay tribute to the invaluable work of the Law Reform Commission in preparing the Bill and clearing the cobwebs that surround much land registry and conveyancing legislation. As a farmer, I am familiar with the legal problems associated with the ownership of small portions of land. I am annoyed and concerned about the long delays encountered during the conveyancing process. I hope this legislation will clear up the uncertainty in this area.

One of the greatest barriers to the full take-up by citizens of their rights is the use of expert or archaic language. The proposal in this Bill to remove this obstacle is welcome. The exclusive language used by many professions is designed to exclude lay people and to mystify relatively simple processes. As Mrs. Justice Laffoy pointed out, it is crucial that we get rid of the historical and irrelevant baggage which engulfs the day-to-day work of conveyancers so they can concentrate on what is important. I hope that will lead to more efficient and cost-effective practice.

The land law and conveyancing law code consists of a complex mixture of statutory provisions, common law and equity. It can be unnecessarily complicated and is sometimes difficult to apply to modern conditions. Land law, broadly speaking, deals with the multiple types of ownership of land and the rights pertaining to each of them. Conveyancing law is concerned with the transfer and disposal of land and the rights pertaining to it. I welcome this Bill because it provides for the repeal, in whole or in part, of approximately 150 pre-1922 statutes, some of which go back to the 11th and 12th centuries and for their replacement, where appropriate, with statutory provisions which are more suited to 21st century circumstances. The Bill also repeals certain provisions in Acts of the Oireachtas which will no longer be required following its enactment.

The average waiting time for the completion of certain land registry transactions is well over a year in some parts of the State, which is untenable. These delays result from staff shortages and the huge increase in land and property dealings in recent years. The Government did not meet these new challenges by increasing staffing levels in the Land Registry. As a result, people have had to wait for considerable periods of time. Many sales collapsed as a result of the long delays in the Land Registry. At the end of January of this year, the total number of current dealings in the Property Registration Authority, which replaced the old Land Registry and Registry of Deeds Office last November, was 175,790. I remind the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that his Department is responsible for the failure to increase staffing levels over the past five years. The Minister did not acknowledge such problems in his speech.

The average waiting time for each county is calculated by dividing the number of dealings in the county by the average number of dealings completed there each month in 2006. My home county of Longford has one of the most advanced land registration systems in the country. It was to the fore in participating in the Irish Spatial Data Infrastructure project. As Deputies are aware, Land Registry delays are one of the biggest problems we face on a daily basis. I witnessed such difficulties on several occasions when I was a Member of the Seanad. Such delays impact adversely on our beleaguered farming community, which faces undue delays in selling sites or land. They are particularly annoying for elderly people who want to sell their land as quickly as possible. I hope this problem will be rectified.

There are a number of major faults with the conveyancing process — it is too complex, for example, and it lacks transparency across processes and groups. Lenders do not provide any universal standard documentation. The system is overly paper-based. It inherited its propensity for delays from old legislation, as I have said. Under the current conveyancing process, information is spread over wide groups. There is no uniform or standard usage of information technology. When I visited the Land Registry offices in recent months, I noticed that the system has improved to some extent. While the legislation in this field is complex and outdated, the legislation before the House proposes to address that. The conservative nature of the culture and tradition in this sector means that delays are easily accepted.

Some of our land ownership and transaction laws and practices are based on the feudal notion of land tenure. This Bill abolishes the surviving traces of feudal tenure, which was the system under which the king was lord of all land and granted land to his lords in return for military and other services. While such practices are no longer found in this country, we all remember the landlords who granted portions of land to tenants etc. in a manner that complicated matters for many farmers throughout the country. That landlords used to give tenants a field here and a field there, often in separate townlands, but not the fields in between, continues to cause friction.

Some amending legislation has been brought forward but more is required to facilitate those who wish to have their portions of land in close proximity to where they live.

The Bill also abolishes various common law rules resulting from court decisions and conveyancing practices. The abolition of the feudal system will lead to the repeal of 130 pre-1922 statutes without amendment. It will ensure that in future landowners will own their land in the normal sense of the word. This is to be welcomed as a system of feudalism has no place in the modern world. People want ownership of land for which they may have paid a high price and they want to have clear title to what they have paid for.

Our now rapidly fading economic growth was not matched by modernisation or improvement of the processes of Government to business and Government to citizen. I am pleased that members of the Government parties will table amendments to this Bill as they are not happy with it. It is to be hoped that this Bill, with the necessary amendments, will bring the system to an acceptable 21st century level of standards. I wait with bated breath for the amendments from the Government side. I have no doubt there will be plenty of amendments from this side of the House.

I welcome the introduction of this Bill. The Bill is a comprehensive, radical and far-reaching reform of our land and conveyancing laws. I wish to speak on the subject of the archaic laws under which conveyancing of land is operated. The Oireachtas has not adequately examined the area of e-conveyancing. This country has shown the world it is capable of being a modern economy and has proved beyond doubt over the past 15 years that it can hold its own with any other country. We are selling ourselves short by not embracing computing and e-conveyancing. Some other countries, such as Canada, have perfected this system and I suggest the Minister consider it. Members of this House and the Seanad have been contacted by constituents who are frustrated by the legal process concerned with the change of ownership of land and houses. The house building programme has been at the level of 70,000 units per year, although this number will decrease this year. Action must be taken to make it easier for individuals to deal with the transfer of property. At a time when the legal profession is under the spotlight, it should be proactive in ensuring that it is seen to be putting in place more effective and efficient conveyancing legislation.

This Bill is welcome because it will remove some of the archaic language and simplify and update the language used. Some solicitors and other members of the legal profession tend to use legalistic language in an effort to buy time when problems arise in conveyancing of property. Like any other profession, it has good practitioners and some very poor practitioners. The work being carried out by efficient solicitors' offices can be frustrated by them being forced to deal with legal practitioners who may not be as efficient and as effective. This is a source of great frustration to the solicitors involved and to the public.

It is timely to be discussing this Bill. This House should be more proactive in ensuring that the conveyancing system and its laws are updated. It does not take rocket scientists to put in place legislation to deal with e-conveyancing, if that is what is needed. The vested interests should be seen to support the Minister, the Department and the public, in ensuring that this Bill is given an easy passage.

The role of the Law Reform Commission in supporting this Bill should be acknowledged and commended. Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness is to be commended. She was president of the Law Reform Commission during the debate on the drafting of this legislation.

The Bill is a joint project that was launched in 2003, four years ago, which shows how slow the progress has been in bringing forward legislation. It is a joint initiative between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Law Reform Commission, the primary purpose of which is to comprehensively reform and modernise all the land conveyancing laws that required updating. The Bill will repeal many of the pre-1922 statutes and this is to be welcomed. The Bill will find support on all sides of the House.

The role of the Land Registry should be acknowledged. It worked for many years under dreadful conditions, as I was informed by a number of members of its staff who were frustrated in dealing with the avalanche of work. Resources have been made available and conditions of work and the efficiency of the office have improved. I hope this Bill will be enacted as soon as possible and I ask the Minister to bring forward legislation to ensure that this country holds its premier place in international circles by having good e-conveyancing legislation on the Statute Book. This should be user-friendly so that where there are no problems attending title, conveyancing can take place within a matter of days rather than months. I know of cases where conveyancing can take years. A mechanism in law should be in place to clean up titles that require it. It is hoped that by the end of this Dáil term, e-conveyancing legislation will be in place in keeping with the first rate economy. I wish this Bill a speedy passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I welcome the opportunity to debate this Bill. As we are all aware land registration is very complex in Ireland. It reflects the various changes in our country's history. For example, the bulk of the deeds that still form the day-to-day practice of conveyancing describe lands as being in situ or in the King’s or Queen’s county. Had the compulsory registration of the Registration of Title Act been extended from 1970 onwards, the Minister’s task in introducing electronic conveyancing would have been far simpler. Because of the various transactions and changes in ownership during that time unfortunately, significant easing of the system might have taken place. However, it was not. It is only in the compulsory registration counties that the registration of the title is incorporated in the issue of a single land certificate. This has resulted in significant changes and has eased the burdensome nature of conveyancing by having just title incorporated in the Land Registry. Changes in the law in this area are long overdue. Many old Acts are being binned into history because of this legislation which I welcome. There are still older statutes and the sooner we deal with them the better for clarity and expediency.

I pay a particular tribute to the Law Reform Commission for all the great work it has carried out on this issue. It has successfully implemented a programme of research and investigation into the law that is second to none. It is infinitely valuable to us as Members of the Oireachtas and it is important that we place on the record our thanks for its great work. This Bill will make the process of conveyancing simpler and more straightforward so it might be clearly understood by the consumer. To achieve this goal much of the old terminology must be replaced by concepts that are more easily understood. The staff of the Land Registry office should be commended on their great work also. Some of the pieces of paper that pass across the desks of examiners of title are complex.

In essence, the Bill reduces the number of estates of varying degrees of ownership to two which I welcome. This will provide a more definite and certain concept of land ownership. The two basic types of ownership will remain freehold or fee simple interest and estate with absolute freehold interest with or without incumbrances and leasehold type of tenancy with covenants and conditions restricting absolute freedom to enjoy the benefit of ownership. There will be no more fee farm rents or fee farm grants, no more leases for life renewable forever and other lesser known but very complex degrees of ownership.

The process of change and simplification will reduce some of the mystique attaching to title and ownership. This will make matters clearer for the consumer and save money as the time involved in the conveyancing transaction will be considerably less. Only a few years ago we were told that three solicitors were necessary to complete an independent house transaction, one for a vendor, one for the purchaser and one for the financial institution, which was ridiculous. I am glad this Bill will make that a thing of the past.

The Bill also deals with many different areas of land law. It represents a major comprehensive review of the law concerning property in Ireland. Currently there is no such thing as absolute ownership of land or property in the State. The Bill will finally redress that issue. The State will be enshrined as the alternative to the British Crown in such matters. The amendment and repeal of aspects of the Partition Acts of 1868 and 1872 are welcome because the uncertainty and confusion that surrounds the current interpretations of these Acts can cause difficulties. There will be a wider discretion vested in the courts to interpret the law and apply modern conditions and everyday eventualities to the concept of ownership.

It is important to move towards the eventual registration of all lands in this country. This is the most important goal and with the enactment of this Bill the Minister might consider focusing his attention on it. He mentioned that the system has been extended to three more counties but there is a long way to go to ensuring that this long overdue measure of ownership can be taken into consideration in a consumer friendly way.

Section 47 of the Bill represents an important change. Similarly in light of recent examples of fraud and questionable practices the new protections for purchasers as laid down in section 57 are significant. The contractual position relating to the conduct of public auction awaits new legislation and a regulatory framework to cover auctioneers. Will the Minister update the House on the steps being taken towards regulating estate agents? Will the introduction of e-conveyancing reduce fees for the purchaser?

I avail of this opportunity to raise the Michael Lynn case which was recently reported in the media. A report by the Law Society's regulation of practice committee disclosed acts of dishonesty on the part of Mr. Lynn in regard to clients' money. Mr. Lynn has been investigated by the Law Society due to concerns about his property dealings. He has a multi-million euro portfolio of more than 100 properties in a number of different countries. The High Court has been told that since January 2007 Mr. Lynn has drawn down loans totalling more than €26 million and has purchased approximately 40 properties, all financed by loans. It is alleged that he took out multiple mortgages on a number of his properties with several banks. The Law Society went to the High Court and has froze Mr. Lynn's assets, obviously to protect clients' money and to prevent further misappropriation. What measures will he take to review the legal profession in light of this case and the fact that solicitors can draw down loans without security?

I welcome this Bill which will provide for a comprehensive reform and modernisation of land law and conveyancing law.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute briefly to this important legislation. Anybody who has had dealings with property will be aware that the area of conveyancing and registering of property is a complex one which most people leave with their solicitor and do not get into the detail. We all know from acting as public representatives that our desks are full of requests to expedite dealings and registrations of properties. We attempt at all times to progress those requests in order that people will not be left on bridging finance and to establish title for them.

This Bill is a serious attempt to modernise and update the law on conveyancing, registration of land and property and the vast amounts of unregistered property. To date there has been no compulsion on anybody to register a property. This has caused difficulties. Can the Minister inform the House how many land holdings and properties are not registered? It has been indicated to me that there could be hundreds of thousands and perhaps up to half a million of such properties. As I am not sure if that figure is correct, perhaps the Minister would indicate the factual position.

We are prisoners of our past. We have heard at first hand from our grandparents of the great battles for the right to tenure and from our history books of Davitt and Parnell and great groups of people who fought for the right of people to own their own land. It is interesting that in eastern European countries people are now trying to re-establish the rights to lands taken from them in the 1920s up to the time of the Iron Curtain. If we were to go back far enough, we could discover people here who were disinherited and, in my case, driven west — to Hell or to Connacht. Are the people who acquired and took ownership of those lands the true owners? If we were to go back far enough, others could be established as the true owners.

While I am not sure if the legislation covers this matter, I know that much of the land was redistributed under the auspices of the Irish Land Commission. While it was distributed to individual farmers who have owned and farmed it legally since, many of them have never vested or registered it in their names. Thousands of portions of land allocated by the Irish Land Commission have still not been registered in the name of the recipient. In many cases it has been passed on to the next or subsequent generations. On a daily basis I come across such cases. If a member of the landowner's family wishes to build a house on a site on the land, it may be discovered that the land is not registered and consolidated into the family holding. It will then be necessary to search the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to try to resurrect documents from the Irish Land Commission dealings and refer it on to the Property Registration Authority in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is all part and parcel of a public representative's work in liaising between our constituents and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Property Registration Authority. Compulsory registration would eliminate such difficulties. I ask the Minister to confirm that we will have a system of compulsory registration.

The Property Registration Authority will decentralise to Roscommon town. Some 230 civil servants are to be relocated with an advance party of 60 already in place. It is expected that 90 will be in place by the end of January. A site was purchased for approximately €3.5 million. It is intended that a purpose-built 50,000 sq. ft. building will be constructed. I ask the Minister to indicate when construction will take place. Much of the registration work we are discussing will be done by the civil servants concerned.

I am not sure whether the legislation addresses the issue of absolute title. Some believe people from towns and cities and visitors to the country have a right to roam the agricultural land of Ireland. This has been a matter of major dispute with the representative groups of farmers, including the IFA, ICMSA and others, claiming this is not an entitlement without prior agreement, a position I absolutely support. Any right to roam must be established by a solid agreement that will protect the interests of the landlord against claim and damage. If his or her property is to be used for amenity purposes, he or she should receive compensation.

Recently we have had the phenomenon of management companies becoming involved in properties, particularly blocks of apartments in towns and cities. This has been a feature for many years in other countries, particularly the United States, where their operation seems to have been fine-tuned but it certainly has not been fine-tuned here. The tenants of many such properties have major issues regarding the responsibility of such companies. This area needs to be regularised and if legislation is needed, so be it, but I cannot find any mention of them in the Bill. Is there an intention to address this matter?

In recent weeks something we have taken as a given, the relationship and trust between a lending institution and a solicitor, has broken down. For many years undertakings given by a solicitor have been accepted wholeheartedly by lending institutions. We have all gone through that process when purchasing the family home or other properties but that trust has now broken down, which is sad. It may involve just a few individuals who are wrong. They have been mentioned in the press, but I will not name them here. Does the Minister have any proposals to restore the trust that has been broken? Can we get back to a situation where the financial institutions can depend on undertakings given or is legislation also needed in this area? It is sad that people who hold such a high position and work on our behalf in the courts and elsewhere would, through abuse, interfere with that trust. I fail to understand how they were offered overdraft facilities on clients' accounts but such things have been allowed to happen.

I remind the Deputy to exercise discretion regarding the possible naming of individuals outside the House.

I thank the Acting Chairman. As I said, I will not name anybody on the floor of the House.

That is appreciated. It makes my job considerably easier.

I have said the names have been published in the press and that I will not name them here in the House. As legislators, we must address the issue. If not resolved, the matter could slow down the process of purchase, denying people the opportunity to deal in the way in which they have dealt in the past, whereby their solicitor would give an undertaking to the financial institution concerned to allow the process to go ahead. Money was always drawn down on that basis, but that trust has broken down, which is unfortunate.

We are tidying up hundreds of pieces of legislation dealing with land registration and ownership, including various titles from the days of landlord and tenant. While I may identify more with rural rather than urban Ireland, I do not mean to do so because there are even more complicated issues in urban settings which will require considerable teasing out. The legislation introduced by the Minister is to be welcomed. In many ways it is overdue. It shows that we will now be in a position as a modern nation not to feel, as was the case, that many of our ownership arrangements indicated subservience to the Crown. That is not the case today, although it may be regarding some urban properties. I hope the legislation will be passed. I understand there is, rightly, broad agreement among the parties in the House. I also hope when the legislation is enacted the necessary support will be provided to implement its provisions. This will be a costly exercise and the staff of the Land Registry will face a significant workload as a result. They should have the necessary back-up to implement the new changes and to ensure the legislation is in place to upgrade existing arrangements and to facilitate those who seek new titles for properties they purchase. I commend the legislation to the House and I thank the Chair for the opportunity to contribute.

In general, I am supportive of the modernisation of legislation and, hopefully, this Bill will be helpful and modernising. Unfortunately, since I became a Member, I have frequently heard mention of modernisation of legislation or "promoting the simplification of the law and its language to make it more easily understood and accessible". If I have heard that statement once, I have heard it 100,000 times but I have never witnessed its manifestation. Any Member who has studied a legal document in recent times, notwithstanding the modernisation and simplification that has taken place, will know it is something to behold. I hope the legislation has more depth to it than previous Bills that purported to address this important issue.

Deputy Finneran raised a number of important issues. When modernising legislation, it should be improved. We should not create more pitfalls and obstacles and we should not make it easier for those who abuse systems to practise their craft in an uncontrolled and unsupervised way. The Bill is intended to update the law so that it is in accord with the changes in society, which is positive. It should address all changes in society. For example, all Members have dealt with cases involving a search going back 100 years to unravel somebody's will to ascertain whether it had been discharged or when it had been discharged and who should benefit now if it has not been discharged. I am not a legal practitioner but, notwithstanding the proposal to modernise the legislation, on countless occasions I have had to help unfortunate constituents unravel legal documents.

I hope the Bill will prevent multiple registrations of the same property. This has become alarmingly common in recent times and two or three people could have title to the same land and have a house built on it. Will it be possible under the legislation to ensure certification of clean titles, which do not have encumbrances? I do not know whether that will be achieved.

Many of us have served on local authorities. A number of local authorities in respect of planning permission in rural areas used to apply a condition whereby sterilisation of the property with the Land Registry was a burden on the title. It was an interesting practice, which should have carried the authorisation of the local authority since only local authority members have the power to do this. However, numerous such burdens were placed on properties without the authorisation of local authority members and, as a result, they are illegal and do not carry any weight. Direction was given to local authorities that this practice should cease. As the Minister of State will recall, Kildare County Council pursued that practice for a number of years without the authorisation of members. The interpretation of planning by an administrator has no relevance in this instance.

The Bill proposes to promote simplification of the conveyancing process, especially the procedures involved and the taking of security over land. I do not know whether the simplification of the procedures will be of major benefit but the simplification of the language could be of colossal benefit. Hopefully, that will be the case if the proposal is put into practice. Invariably, with the best will in the world, people say the rules will change to ensure a totally smooth and level playing pitch by simplifying the language but the first and second letter issued afterwards includes language that must be read four or five times to be understood. It could well be that people are not well versed enough in these matters but to protect the public, it is important that such language is comprehensible at all times by those of reasonable intelligence and competence and not only a chosen few.

The registration of commonages should also be evaluated under this legislation. Interesting practices were pursued in the past in this area. The theory is that a person who has an interest in common with others in a property cannot have it taken from them without their authorisation or co-operation. That is not true, as people have found out on a number of occasions when others who wanted to acquire the land decided to secure the support and goodwill of a majority of those who were deemed to be tenants in common and were able to acquire full title and ownership of the property, with obvious beneficial consequences for themselves. I hope the legislation will address such scenarios to ensure tenants in common are not disinherited by virtue of the speed and slickness of others in these circumstances.

The number of properties held by or transferred to people who have acquired their wealth through various dubious means is another issue. In other words, they use property to launder money. If a person or an entity wishes to purchase a property for which a loan is required from a financial institution, the presumption is a thorough examination of the title will ensue and it will be certified in the normal way to ensure it is clean. However, if the purchaser has sufficient resources to acquire the property without a loan, the issue of registration of title falls by the wayside. I have come across this practice in a number of cases. If this issue is not addressed by the legislation, it should be because there has never been a greater need in the history of the State to deal with the issue of purchasing property to launder money. Never in the history of the State has there been more need to deal up-front with that whole question of money laundering, and the purchase of property as houses, lands etc, in order to hide funds the source of which could not be publicly disclosed. Such an initiative would dramatically ease the difficulties the Garda may have as regards some properties that are put on the market from time to time. An alternative would be to have a requirement as regards all property transactions stipulating that the usage must be in line with the current planning permission. As regards conveyancing, I am sure our legal friends would not be too enthusiastic about embarking on such a course. However, a property might come on the market and be purchased by a person or group who do not need to get a loan. They may buy the property regardless of whether there is planning permission or if its usage had been established by virtue of what went on in it over a number of years. Five, ten, or 20 years later the property could be sold to somebody else who may well have to show whether permission exists for the use to which it is being put at that time. In the event, the property's usage must be regularised. Whatever use it had for money laundering purposes, for example, will have been washed away and things can proceed with impunity on a level playing pitch. This is an area that bears careful scrutiny. It would be foolish to allow a Bill to pass without checking that area to make absolutely certain that nobody can transfer a property that does not have a clean bill of planning health to be conveyed through the system. The only people who can buy a property without such a clean bill of planning health are those with resources they want to hide, because if one has to get a loan or mortgage there must be certification of title.

The previous speaker, Deputy Michael Finneran, made reference to the right to roam, which has become very popular in recent times. Nobody has any problem with the right to roam. The only reservation in this regard is to appreciate that if a person has the right to roam over another's property, then he or she has the right to reciprocate. That is where the fun arises and it should be applicable to all. In other words nowhere can a property exist that is absolutely excluded from such a right. Otherwise it is only done by agreement. If it is by agreement, there is no problem, but it should not be done on any other basis. Many landowners believe it should be on foot of a charge, but I am not so sure, because with that goes responsibility, liability and the potential for insurance claims and claims where there is no insurance. For those who argue there must always be insurance, sadly, that does not always apply. We have all dealt with cases where there are people who were deemed to be insured, or who had gone through the motions for such purposes, but who were not insured. We could all write books about that. If we need any inspiration in that regard we need just look at our records to find ample examples.

Another aspect of the Bill is the definition of property. It makes clear that land includes both the air space above and the substratum below the surface and layers of these, however the division is made. There is going to be great fun if we believe this is a simplification of conveyancing of land or property. We can imagine what it will be like in terms of air space above and the sub-stratum below. By the time our good friends in the legal profession have argued over all the possibilities and the potential in each of those areas, there will be great fun and entertainment for all. Those who will not be entertained will pay a price. I am somewhat worried over the description and how it is settled in the proposed legislation because I am not sure we fully appreciate the degree and extent to which variations are likely to occur in the future. I can assure the House there will be many. Perhaps the Minister of State might note that, as well as the previous issue I referred to as regards money laundering. If the proposed legislation is not sufficiently strong in that regard, this is the time to deal with it and it should be done as a matter or urgency.

The Bill retains the concept of an estate in land, which is part of the feudal system. I welcome the proposal to abolish the feudal system, although I thought it had been abolished for years. I am delighted to be reminded, in the context of this proposal, that the feudal system is about to be abolished again. Various politicians indicated many years ago that it was abolished and had set about achieving this in various ways.

I am particularly worried about e-registration. I know information technology has become very popular. It is the way forward and has enormous potential in terms of speeding access to information, records etc. It is of great benefit to the country, the economy and individuals. However, as we know from recent reports as regards other areas where the law is being blatantly broken through abuse of IT, and where international communications has leant itself to criminality, I hope there is sufficient provision in the legislation to ensure that those who want to hack into, adjust, amend or interfere in any way with somebody else's property registration, rights and entitlements will be prevented from so doing. I do not know whether that is possible. We use technology to access bank accounts, tax and social welfare affairs and a whole range of areas specific to each person. With the growth in technology, however, so-called computer hackers appear to be able to get information which was not intended for them and to access data regardless of pin numbers or anything else. This is not a good thing, so the Minister should bear in mind the security of the system and the need to ensure that in any proliferation of e-registration or e-conveyancing, there is ample protection for the individual. If there is not, we are likely to witness unprecedented growth in crime, whereby the unscrupulous might decide to acquire for themselves the substratum below or airspace above a property or properties. This could lead to complications and have serious implications for the rights of individuals to the properties concerned.

The Bill is substantial. Unusually, its explanatory memorandum is voluminous also, which makes me uneasy. In that regard I hope the debate so far has been of help to the Parliamentary Counsel. I hope the Bill will lead to improvement and make a positive difference. I hope it will not create obstacles and problems that are worse than those already encountered.

I thank Deputies for their contributions and broad support for the reform proposals set out in the Bill. While it undoubtedly contains many technical proposals and measures, its aim is to update our land and conveyancing laws to meet the changed needs of the 21st century. The Government recognises the need for an up-to-date and streamlined conveyancing code that will reduce the time taken to buy and sell property and improve economic efficiency. In short, an up-to-date code is needed to protect consumers and facilitate economic activity in a vibrant market economy.

Many of the points raised in Deputies' contributions were of a detailed nature and are, therefore, more appropriate for discussion on Committee Stage. I would, however, like to respond on some of the more general policy issues raised during the debate.

Deputy Rabbitte asked whether there were plans to modernise the landlord and tenant code. In that regard I am happy to state work on such a project is already well under way in the Law Reform Commission. I look forward to the conclusion of that project and proposals for updating the law in this important area.

A number of Deputies referred to issues relating to the registration of title and the relative lack of progress made in recent years in extending compulsory registration of land. While I agree that perhaps more could and should have been done, the current position is that the specific function of promoting and extending registration of ownership of land has been given to the Property Registration Authority. It would perhaps be helpful to Deputies if I put this in an historical context. The first attempt to introduce registration of title in Ireland was made in the Record of Title (Ireland) Act 1865 but its scope was limited to land sales sanctioned by the Landed Estates Court under the Landed Estates Court (Ireland) Act 1858. This Act marked an attempt to free up large estates burdened with family settlements by permitting the sale of the land and using the proceeds to discharge the debts. In this way, purchasers were able to acquire clear title to the land in question. The Act also made provision for registering such titles but did not establish a dedicated land registry. As a result, little use was made of the registration option.

On a point of order, is the Minister of State replying to the debate?

There has been a misunderstanding.

There has. Other speakers must make their contributions before the Minister of State. Would he mind if we were to allow them?

I have no difficulty. I would be delighted to listen.

It is in the interests of furthering the debate.

It is unusual for the Members seeking to contribute to be in the House at all.

I am delighted they have so much to say.

I thank the Minister of State and the Chair for allowing us to contribute. I wish to share time with Deputy Jimmy Deenihan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important Bill which deals with land registration and conveyancing. We have some reservations about the Bill and the manner in which it deals with complex and important areas of law. The law in this area has long been in need of reform. Solicitors deal with complex and confusing matters in standard land registration and conveyancing every day such as loopholes in current law. I am very glad the House is making an attempt to bring existing legislation up to date to reflect modern social circumstances which no longer require land law based on a feudal system. This is one of the matters that causes Deputies great frustration as they deal regularly with constituents' cases pertaining to the Land Registry and the registration of titles. Constituents who visit our offices or clinics are very frustrated about deals being held up and I hope the Bill will go some way towards helping them. The staff in the Property Registration Authority have in recent years been very helpful in dealing with clients when presented with the relevant reference numbers. The staff in the Waterford office have been particularly responsive to our individual representations.

My first point relates to the Government's stated aim of introducing a comprehensive system of electronic conveyancing, namely, e-conveyancing. Approximately 85% of land in the State, including almost all farmland, is registered with the Property Registration Authority. This is a sound foundation on which to complete the process of registering titles. The Minister wishes to make this compulsory and the Fine Gael Party supports him entirely.

Registration of land enables solicitors and prospective buyers, not to mention current land purchasers, to know more about the property to be purchased and will solve problems regarding boundaries, fences and rights of way. Arguments over rights of way have caused great division in many parishes and among many people and families. I hope the Bill will help in this regard. Divisions over rights of way lead to additional work, expenses and delays for all parties and the Bill represents a huge step forward in that regard.

The compulsory purchase of land titles applies in only six counties, namely, Carlow, Laois and Meath since 1970, and Longford, Roscommon and Westmeath since 2006. Fine Gael stresses that this process is vital to the legal profession and the economy. We will push strongly for sufficient funding and expertise in order that the registration process can be extended to the rest of the country. It is important to remember that in difficult times it will certainly be worth having the type of registration system we can look forward to on foot of e-conveyancing. Our only concern about moving to this system relates to the security of records. We all remember the public confusion and fear over electronic voting. In some Departments there could be breaches of a criminal nature, about which I am worried. The Minister certainly needs to address this issue.

The Minister emphasised recently the importance to economic growth of an efficient system of title registration and property transfer, one of the essential factors in the development of prosperous modern economies. The Chambers of Commerce of Ireland recently made this point. They reckon that straightforward and easy planning, conveyancing and land registration are key to future economic growth. This alone is a very strong argument for ensuring we are able to process matters relating to these three areas. I know this is not in the Bill but I make the point that the processes of planning, conveyancing and land registration must be speeded up so that ordinary businesses can develop and expand and that people coming into this country are not held up. People who are prepared to put their neck on the line in respect of investments or whatever they wish to do to boost this economy should not be held up in these three areas. As the economy faces into possibly a more difficult period, it is very important that we streamline all those areas. The Bill certainly goes some way towards doing this. We need to put this in place in respect of the other areas I have mentioned, particularly planning. It is in the country's interest and that of the people who have the nerve to stand up and say they will spend their money. These people need the proper procedures and planning and I hope this Bill will help in respect of this.

While we accept the Bill does not set out to codify all our land and conveyancing laws in statutory form, they are related concerns. This attempt would mean distilling and converting all relevant judicial or legislative principles into common legislative code. Apart from the efforts involved, such a project would have taken a considerable number of years. Such a codification would inevitably increase the rigidity of the law and remove the flexibility and adaptability which is such a positive feature of our system.

This would take a number of years to complete and would be a marathon endeavour. However, it would also have its merits as recent cases have made Irish people more wary of land purchase. This is terrible for solicitors and clients alike. Since the Bill we are discussing is not an entire revamp, I emphasise that it needs to ensure that Irish land purchasers' rights are looked after and that regulation of the industry is critical.

Almost everybody discussing this Bill has mentioned how complex and confusing language is in this area of law. The onus is on the Government to produce a document for those wishing to purchase land so they can adequately understand the issues they come up against. This would further enable consumers to know their rights and recognise what anomalies arise when dealing with land law. I would welcome such a document as many people in my constituency are often confused and concerned about questioning their solicitor at a time when they make purchases or inherit. They are going through a big change in their lives and I find that many people have real difficulty with the language involved. I encourage the Government to use this legislation as an opportunity to educate the public in this regard now that many outdated items are moving from the law.

In respect of the right to roam, which was dealt with by many people earlier, as a person with much respect for the country way of life, I wonder about charging for access to land. The most important thing that people who are allowed to roam our countryside must do is to respect the land or property they are walking over. This is very important from the point of view of the goodwill of the people who own the land because there is huge potential for tourism, the development of walkways, what people would like to do in their spare time and the natural beauty of our country being used for everyone's benefit. However, the most important thing is to respect property.

I will quote from a speech given in the Seanad by the former Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Frank Fahey. He stated:

it is difficult in practice to draw a clear distinction between land law and conveyancing law. Therefore, it makes sense to deal with these separate but connected areas of law in one set of proposals.

As previous speakers have said, this is a very complex area of law. We are still very much influenced by laws going back to Norman times. Certainly, it is at times very formidable for the ordinary individual who sometimes cannot come to terms with it. This is why it is so important that the law be simplified and made much clearer. This is part of the general objective of this Bill which, hopefully, will be achieved.

I know people are using the Bill to speak about related subjects. Most speakers spoke about the right to roam, about which there is considerable confusion, and what is happening at the moment is not helping matters. I know the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs set up a forum. Despite recent comments that progress was made, I do not believe this is so. As someone who likes walking along mountains in particular and the seashore, I know that on most occasions when one goes walking, one sees the obstacles. National pronouncements are not reflected on the ground.

I understand fully why people would be very wary of allowing people on to their property. On the other hand, there are people who will see an advantage in leading people on to their property. The mention of money got people thinking about closing traditional walkways because they may get some compensation for it. Whatever it takes, it should be rectified as soon as possible.

Mention was made of the amount of land that is properly registered in this country. I suggest introducing a national programme involving the proper registration of all land in this country because older people possess land who are not just concerned about the registration of title. It leads to major confusion among families or where land is being passed on. There is also the question of land such as commonage that seems impossible to register and divide even among communities which are prepared to co-operate and divide up commonage for community use. It seems to be impossible to do this because of the complexity of existing law. I hope this Bill will, in some way, address that issue. I am familiar with a number of commonages where no one objects to the division but as those with rights to the land cannot be found, it cannot be subdivided among local communities. That is a major issue which is creating problems and should be addressed.

Ownership of fishing rights in rivers should also be addressed. Efforts were made to address the issue when fishing clubs were set up. Major disputes between local people, angling clubs and those who claim rights to rivers lead to confusion.

The Bill provides for future interests in land. Members come across cases where land is earmarked for a person on reaching a certain age. Cases become very complicated. I hope the rules that led to this situation will be changed in the Bill. Future interests for very young people can be protected by trustees when appointed but this was not the case in the past. Trusts relating to land are becoming more popular. The provision in the Bill governing their establishment to pass on land is very important.

Another development concerns land held in partnership and co-ownership. The European Union is encouraging partnership in farming. I can see cases that will arise where farmers will work in partnership and those who acquire partnership rights will seek partnership arrangements to hold property in common. I hope Part VI of the Bill which seeks to modernise and simplify the law relating to co-ownership of land where groups of individuals own property will bring clarity to the law and avoid the current problems in court. There is a total lack of clarity and it is up to a judge to decide what the law is. The Bill will provide more guarantees and stability for co-owners. Contracts relating to land is an important subject. E-conveyancing makes this very important. In the future contracts will have to be very clear and properly registered.

Ownership of land reaches to the soul of Irish people and the heart of how we deal with matters. Most agitation centre on land. This reform is a significant departure but there is some way to go. The area should be continually reviewed.

With the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who has legal expertise present, I will not address legal issues. This has been done by Deputy Flanagan and others. I will instead refer to difficult issues with which politicians and the public must deal.

I welcome the update of the law, in accordance with modern society, for which the Bill provides. I hope it will promote simplification because complication is one of the issues that can arise in the conveyancing of land. We need the process and language to be simpler. Recently a young lady sought to have land for a site transferred from her father. She had to comply with various regulations and deal with problems over a six month period in order that she could acquire title to obtain a loan for her house. That should not happen nowadays, the process should be simpler. The land was in the ownership of the family for a long period. The Bill should simplify matters.

Regarding the transfer of land, there are historic landlord and tenant deals, free land and other legal jargon terms. Some ten years ago a man sought to build on the family farm. The neighbour's son had built on the land without a problem. In those days the bank would accept lodgement of deeds. When the man in question sought to obtain a mortgage, the title was not correct. In the end, the solicitor had to find 19 people across the island of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales before the man in question could acquire the title. This caused major complications. How can one particular farmer use the land for 12 years, pay no rent and then take it over because of the time he spent on it? On the other hand, land in the hands of one family for years can lead to this difficulty. I hope the Bill deals with the serious difficulties encountered in the past.

I refer to the rights of tenants. In Carrickmacross tenants are under severe pressure. Legal actions have been taken but nothing has been solved. Other speakers have referred to the right to roam, an issue which must be dealt with in an amicable manner. Discussions relating to this matter have been taking place between farming organisations and the Government for some time. Farmers must be careful, particularly in this era of the compensation culture. If a person slips or has an accident on a farmer's land, the latter might experience a great deal of trouble as a result. Most people involved in farming have full insurance. However, the position in this regard must be made quite clear and all difficulties relating to it resolved.

While it is important to ensure that tourism is allowed to thrive and that people are encouraged to give others the freedom to walk over their land to access special scenic areas, the rights of landowners, property owners, farmers etc., must be taken into consideration and upheld. Where necessary and justified, some level of compensation should be paid.

There is also the issue of extra rights. Some time ago I raised a particular matter and requested that solicitors be notified and informed in respect of it, particularly in light of the problems that can arise. I refer to situations where someone may have made his or her will in the late 1990s when single farm premia did not exist. Another person who comes into possession of that individual's land may be of the view that the right to the single farm premium transferred to him or her with the land and that he or she is entitled to it. I understand that the latter is not the case if there are other relatives alive who may have a claim to pursue. The position in this regard must be made clear to solicitors and to people in general in order that there will not be a great deal of fighting and rows among the members of a family following a person's death.

Single farm premia form a large part of farm incomes and this is a major issue. I recently came across a case in which a farm was sold, as were the rights to the premium. It was advertised and agreed by everyone that the rights were of a certain value. However, when the farmer tried to transfer the rights he discovered a number of technicalities that had not been clarified by the solicitors, auctioneers or anyone else. The case to which I refer is quite complex and I do not wish to make any more comments in respect of it because there is a possibility that it may be taken further. However, solicitors must be informed about the new issues that must be dealt with in this area.

A number of years ago, the use of bogland or commonage was not really an issue. Now, however, given that money is allocated towards overall acreage via REPS and other schemes, such land has become extremely valuable and is giving rise to difficulties.

Clarification must be provided in respect of problems relating to partnerships. There is no doubt that partnerships between fathers and sons, between neighbours etc., can give rise to difficulties, particularly if they are not well dealt with by solicitors. In my view, many solicitors do not fully understand what is involved. For example, a leasee can cause problems if he or she so wishes. If a farmer leases land to his son and takes the EU farm retirement grant, under existing laws he subsequently cannot give the land to his son unless the latter pays an enormous amount of stamp duty. This comes about because in legal terms the owner of the land, having taken the farm retirement grant, is no longer a farmer. I would like to see technicalities of this nature changed.

In the past, solicitors were among the most trusted people in the country. What has happened in recent weeks regarding dodgy transfers — I do not wish to say too much before further legal action may be pursued in this area — has damaged the trust that exists between solicitors and their clients. It is important that these matters be dealt with in the strongest possible way. If there is a need to introduce legislation, then so be it. If legislation is not required, we must ensure that the individuals involved are dealt with because the trust to which I refer must continue to exist. If, for example, a person has a need to seek an immediate loan, the positionvis-à-vis his or her solicitor’s guarantee to the bank that the legal situation will be resolved in the future must be clarified. If that does not happen, there will be major delays in many areas, including the construction of private homes.

In the past solicitors provided undertakings or guarantees to lending institutions that when all matters relating to titles were resolved, they would, as promised, be presented with clear deeds. Recent events have undermined that clear understanding and could damage some young people's future prospects. I hope the position in this regard can be resolved. Regardless of whether it is in politics or the legal profession, one or two bad eggs can spoil matters for everyone.

I thank Deputies for their contributions and for their broad support for the reform proposals set out in the Bill. While it undoubtedly contains many technical proposals and measures, the aim of the Bill is to update our land and conveyancing laws in order to meet the changed needs of the 21st century. The Government recognises the need for an up-to-date and streamlined conveyancing code that will reduce the time taken to buy and sell property and improve economic efficiency. In short, an up-to-date code is needed to protect consumers and facilitate economic activity in a vibrant market economy.

Many of the points made by Deputies were detailed in nature and may be discussed on Committee Stage. However, I wish to reply to some of the more general issues raised.

Deputy Rabbitte asked whether there are plans to modernise the landlord and tenant code. I am happy to say that work on such a project is already well under way within the Law Reform Commission. I look forward to the conclusion of that project and to proposals for updating the law in this important area.

Deputies Flanagan and Rabbitte referred to issues relating to registration of title and the relative lack of progress in recent years in extending compulsory registration of land. While I agree that perhaps more could and should have been done, the position is that the specific function of promoting and extending registration of ownership of land has been given to the Property Registration Authority. I discussed the matter with the chairman of the authority and it is important to progress the compulsory registration of land.

Towards the end of the 19th century, various land purchase acts, with which many of us are familiar, were enacted. These provided loans for tenant farmers to purchase their holdings from landlords, subject to annual repayments in the form of land purchase annuities. As these schemes involved public funds, it was considered that title to the lands should be secured by means of registration. As a result, the Local Registration of Title (Ireland) Act 1891 made provision for establishment of the Land Registry and provided that the registration of title was compulsory in all cases where land was purchased under the land purchase schemes. All of this land has remained within the registration of title system and approximately 85% of land in the State, including almost all farmland, is registered with the Land Registry.

The Registration of Title Act 1964 repealed the 1891 Act and made provision for the gradual extension of compulsory registration to complete the land register. Compulsory registration was introduced in counties Carlow, Laois and Meath in 1970. Last year, counties Longford, Westmeath and Roscommon were added to the list. Since most of the farmland in these counties was already registered, the main impact has been on transactions involving urban land.

While urban land outside compulsory areas may be registered under existing provisions on a voluntary basis, much of it remains unregistered because of the time and effort which may be required to register it and because of the problems which may arise in sorting out complex "pyramid" titles. It is difficult to say how many of these unregistered titles remain and it could be as many as 350,000. In the case of these titles, the transactions must be registered at the registry of deeds. However, the underlying root of title must be evidenced by a sequence of transactions in respect of the land. A major challenge for the Property Registration Authority is to devise a strategy to promote and extend the registration of urban land throughout the country. I understand the authority is in discussions with the Law Society with a view to drawing up its future strategy for extending title registration as required by the legislation under which it was established.

Deputies Rabbitte and Terence Flanagan queried the present position regarding adverse possession of land. I will respond in light of the recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Pye v. UK. The statutory position is that applications for title based on adverse possession are made to the Property Registration Authority under section 49 of the Registration of Title Act 1964. In such cases, the applicant claims that the rights of the registered owner have been extinguished under the Statute of Limitations and that the applicant is now entitled to be registered as owner. For obvious reasons, the authority considers all applications for registration based on adverse possession with particular care and attention.

Some applications are withdrawn on receipt of correspondence from the authority outlining the legal conditions necessary to acquire title by means of adverse possession. Where it appears to the authority that an application does not meet the stringent requirements of section 49, the application will be refused. It is open to any party to appeal a decision to the courts but in practice such appeals are rare.

The recent judgment of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights reversed an earlier ruling which held a system which provided for adverse possession of land without any possibility of financial compensation infringed property rights safeguarded under the European Convention on Human Rights. My Department is still examining the full implications of the judgment.

I understand the Law Reform Commission intends to examine issues surrounding adverse possession in its next law reform programme and I welcome this development. I am sure the commission's future work will provide a sound foundation on which to base future reforms in this area. The threat emerging from the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights that our system of adverse possession was contrary to our international obligations has receded.

Deputy Rabbitte raised the important issue of recreational use of land and the rights to access to land for that purpose. Deputy Crawford also touched on this matter when he mentioned the right to roam. The matter is being handled by my colleague, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, and I have no wish to roam into his areas of responsibility.

With regard to solicitors' undertakings in respect of mortgage lending I want to stress that I cannot comment on individual cases, particularly as the issues raised are linked to matters which are before the courts at present. I am glad Deputy Crawford raised this issue in his contribution because it is of great public concern.

The process whereby a purchaser's solicitor may act for both the purchaser and a lending institution was agreed between the legal profession and the banking sector and has been in operation for approximately 20 years. The process is designed to benefit those transacting residential conveyancing in that it permits the purchaser's solicitor to act on behalf of the lending institution. This has reduced costs to the benefit of consumers and reduced the length of time taken to complete the conveyance. It was never intended that the process would be used for commercial purposes nor was it intended that the process should be used where the applicant was the lodging solicitor.

As part of the process, in so far as it applies, the purchaser's solicitor will usually give an undertaking to a financial institution to the effect that he or she will ensure that the purchaser has a good marketable title to the property, that the documents are executed and that all the title deeds are stamped, registered and lodged with the relevant institution. In addition, pending lodgement of the title deeds with the bank or building society, generally the solicitor will undertake to hold the deeds in trust for the lending institution. In this context, it is important to note that where a solicitor fails to honour an undertaking given, it is considered to be professional misconduct and as a result the solicitor is rendered liable to the Law Society's disciplinary procedures and to investigation by the solicitors' disciplinary tribunal. Depending on the particular circumstances of a case the criminal law may also apply.

Mortgage lending is primarily a matter for the financial institutions involved and Deputies will appreciate that I have no function in the system of banking and making loans available to clients. The Financial Regulator is responsible for the prudential supervision of Irish-licensed financial institutions and is independent in matters of day-to-day supervision. The regulator has consistently conveyed to lending institutions that mortgage lending policies and practices should be prudent and responsible. I have indicated to the House that it is in everybody's interest that the best practices which clearly exist in the area of solicitors' undertakings are followed. I also stated that in so far as any matters are to be reviewed or issues to be addressed by the Government, Deputies can be assured that the responsible Ministers will do so.

The matter of multi-unit developments were raised by several Deputies and they are a major issue of property law in the public mind. Together with auctioneers and estate agents, property management agents will be covered by the licensing system to be operated by the national property services regulatory authority. Deputy Terence Flanagan raised the matter of the timescale for the legislation establishing the authority. It is being drafted in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.

Property management companies, which are the owners of units within multi-unit developments, are regulated under company law and are subject to its enforcement mechanisms, including the Companies Registration Office and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. In recognition of the complex nature of the difficulties arising in regard to the structure and governance of these companies, and the cross-cutting nature of many of them, the Government has established a high-level interdepartmental committee to assist in the development of a coherent and comprehensive legislative response.

The key task facing the committee is to identify the legislative and administrative actions to be taken on receipt of the Law Reform Commission's definitive recommendations for legislative reforms in its forthcoming report on multi-unit developments. The commission will publish the report later this year following completion of a consultation process.

Deputy Durkan raised the matter of property held in common. Section 28 of this Bill will prohibit the unilateral severance of a joint tenancy without the written consent of the other joint tenants. This should help deal with the problem described by Deputy Durkan. He also raised the question of airspace and its connection with property law. The inclusion of airspace in the definition of property reflects the existing law on this issue as determined by the courts.

Does this have to do with Shannon?

I think it was Kildare rather than Clare.

Deputy Crawford raised the question of the transfer of single premia and other farm payments. It does not come within the scope of this Bill but I will raise the issue with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to see whether the legislation in this area can be examined with a view to dealing with the issues raised by Deputy Crawford.

All sides of the House welcome this measure. It is necessarily highly technical in scope but it will play a significant part in the reform of our property law and law relating to land transactions which is now under way.

Question put and agreed to.